'Blair Witch' offers filmmakers hope
Sunday, August 15, 1999

'Blair Witch' offers filmmakers hope

Area productions take heart in its success

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Blair Witch Project has done more than pump multimillions into the coffers of Artisan Entertainment. It has lifted the spirits and revived the hopes of countless unknown filmmakers.

        Artisan bought the ultra-low-budget Blair Witch, shot on videotape and black-and-white film for about $30,000, from its creators for a little more than $1 million. Since then, the film has raked in more than $80 million at the box office.

        That kind of one-in-10,000 story fuels the hell-bent optimism that keeps hope alive for nouveau, would-be, wannabe, novice, journeyman and student filmmakers everywhere.

        Including here.

        A mini-boom in local filmmaking in the past few years has yielded a mixed bag of projects — some finished, some not yet off the ground — ranging from low-brow tongue-in-cheek horror to aesthetic art-house drama.

        They do have this in common: So far, not one has made a dime.

        Local filmmakers share another uniform trait; across the board, they express attitudes so upbeat they're almost delirious.

        No matter how many obstacles have slowed their pace, no matter how arduous a road lies ahead, virtually all of them happily pronounce that things are going great. A few more investors, another weekend of shooting, a little more time in the editing lab, maybe another test screening, a round of film festivals, more meetings with distributors — the chance for success is only that far away, they say.

        Rick Barlow, a Milford marketing executive turned producer, said he hopes the Blair Witch phenomenon — as well as the no-star hit American Pie — “will shift the paradigm with distributors.”

        Meaning? “What I hope it does is cause them to have an appetite to gamble on low-cost, independent films, 'cause we've got one.”

        He's not alone. Here, in alphabetical order, is an update on several independent feature films born in the Cincinnati area:

        • April's Fool (completed) — Writer-director Paul Geiger recently put the finishing touches on the film he shot in and around Cincinnati last year. But not until it went through what producer Mark Turner called “typical indie film hell,” including technical glitches and delays arranging for soundtrack music.

        Next step for the film, a gritty tale about a bad day in the life of a gambler, will be submissions to film festivals.

        “Our fall-back position is we're going to try to open it here next April, no matter what,” Mr. Turner said. The filmmakers also may arrange their own April 1 openings in New York and Los Angeles if they cannot attract a distributor, he said.

        Mr. Turner, who teaches audiovisual production at Southern Ohio College, said the filmmaking experience has been a challenge, but a rewarding one. “If it was easy,” he said, “everybody would do it.”

        • Avenging Disco Vampires (in production) — Written and directed by former Northern Kentucky University student Daniel Frazier, this ultra-low-budget comic horror story deals with a town overrun with vampires divided into warring factions.

        It is being shot on video, chiefly on weekends, with volunteer actors and crew. Once completed, it is most likely to end up as a direct-to-video release, following the model of previous Tristate horror movies, Vamps, Evil Ambitions and Zombie Cult Massacre. In fact, Mr. Frazier first began planning Disco Vampires while volunteering on Vamps in 1996.

        • The Dream Catcher (completed) — Shot partly in Cincinnati and Dayton — as well as locations as far west as Salt Lake City — this drama about two runaways was the only American film accepted into the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland, which closed Saturday . The film's European premiere last Sunday played to a sold-out audience of 3,500 in an open-air theater. When two more screenings also sold out, the festival added a fourth show.

        Although he won the “best director” award at this year's Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, Ed Radtke still is waiting for good news from one of the several distributors who have expressed interest in the film.

        • The Last Late Night (completed) — Rick Barlow decided, after his son Scott had written six screenplays, that it was time to give the movie-making business a whirl. He joined his son at industry how-to workshops, then jumped in as producer of the comedy about a friendly get-together that gets out of hand. It was shot in only two weeks last winter.

        The Barlows have built promotion into the project from the start: They hired former porn star Ginger Lynn Allen to lend sizzle to the cast, opened a Web site (wwww.lastlatenight.com) to keep fans up-to-date on the production, and held a well-attended test screening on the University of Cincinnati campus in spring.

        Now, the senior Mr. Barlow reports, they are in the final stages of adding a soundtrack — the original score is by local composer Douglas Thornton — and may offer another test run for local viewers. They are applying to more than 30 film festivals.

        Mr. Barlow confessed to frustration over post-production delays; a courier service lost a box of sound tapes that had to be reconstructed from backups. But he also noted that his son recently landed an interview with an agent, a first step toward the professional representation that is indispensable for a movie career.

        • People Like Us (completed) — Shocked by the sudden death of his father in 1995, Rob Kennedy gave up a career as a pharmacist to learn moviemaking. After gaining experience in video production, he and his wife, Lesley, wrote the script for this family drama.

        Shot last year in Northern Kentucky, the movie has just come out of the last stage of post-production.

        The Kennedys are planning a “gala screening” in October for cast, crew and local supporters. “Now we're moving into the distribution and marketing phase, with another thousand films in the U.S.,” Mr. Kennedy joked.

        That includes some submission to winter and spring film festivals. He also recently agreed to run the film's trailer on a new Web site (www.alwaysif.com) created by another local filmmaker, Gary Zeidenstein (Triangles and Tribulations).

        • Tattered Angel (in preparation) — Fall is the target shooting season for this suspense drama, directed by corporate filmmaker (and former co-owner of the DV8 night spot) Will Benson. The story of a man who encounters a mysterious past when he goes home for his mother's funeral was written by Duffy Hudson. He is a former acting-class colleague of actress Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman), who not only agreed to appear in the film, but flew into town last month for a fund-raiser at the Indian Hill home of arts patrons John and Ruth Sawyer.

        “We did really well at the party,” Mr. Hudson said. “We met a lot of wonderful people that are proving to be very, very useful. They're coming through.”

        D. Lynn Meyers of the Ensemble Theatre has signed on as casting director, as has producer Alan Forbes, who is working on the Indiana feature Madison.

        • This Train (in post-production) — Shot last year by poet Aralee Strange, this artistic fantasy boasts Soupy Sales among its cast. Ms. Strange said she has been working in the editing room to come up with a rough cut before bringing in an experienced editor to whip the film into final shape.

        Local composer Jay Bolotin is writing music for the film, which will be mixed at a local studio after the film is edited.

        “We'd like to finish it by the first of December,” Ms. Strange said. “That gives us time to apply to festivals for winter and spring,” particularly European festivals.

        • Triangles and Tribulations (completed) — Recently acquired by the EI Cinema company for home video distribution, this lighthearted mockumentary — about a man maniacally devoted to playing the triangle — holds the distinction of having an actual commercial outlet.

        The movie was also one of the first uploaded for computer viewing on Mr. Zeidenstein's Web site, Always Independent Film.Com (www.alwaysif.com). In operation only since April, the site has charted more than a million visits and attracted scores of film submissions for its online archives.

        Right now, it is in the midst of its first online film festival, showcasing 85 films, including shorts, which will be judged by a panel of industry insiders. In the spring, the site will open a new festival, in which winners will be chosen by the online audience.

        Though the site is adding some sponsors and aiming for promotional partnerships with film companies (Trimark, for instance), Mr. Zeidenstein conceded that it has not yet broken the knotty economic problem of computer users' unwillingness to pay extra fees. Thus, the site offers independent filmmakers exposure, but no money.

        Margaret A. McGurk is Enquirer film critic. Write her at mmcgurk@enquirer.com.


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